Our visit to Fort Bravo, part of Mini-Hollywood in Almeria

19 Aug

I am not a fan of Spaghetti Westerns, but Paul enjoys them. I tend to fall asleep with boredom but quite enjoy watching the inevitable scene in the Saloon Bar, which always ends with chairs being thrown around after a rowdy drinking session and game of poker. However, when he explained that they were filmed in Spain’s only desert in Almeria, within driving distance of where we were  staying in the Alpujarras, I liked the sound of visiting one of the film sets as a day out.

There are three sites to visit, and we chose Fort Bravo, which is probably in between the other two in terms of size and variety of activities. Naturally in August anywhere in a desert is going to be hot, so we would have to leave early and pace ourselves. I was also attracted by the fact that there is a swimming pool on the site; nothing to do with Spaghetti Westerns but an excellent idea for a hot day out in the desert! The largest site, Oasys, we were put off from visiting as we read reviews on ‘Trip Adviser’ from visitors who were distressed by the large number of animals who seemed to be kept in hot cages with little shade or roaming space.

I was absolutely bowled over by the film set. Most of the films were made in the 60s and 70s; for instance ‘Once upon a time in the West’ was made here. Given then that the set is now at least 50 years old, it is in remarkably good shape. Most of the buildings I should imagine would be used just for the outside shots, and some of them you cannot go into, but there are many buildings which you can still enter and walk around. For instance the Saloon Bar is still used as a bar for visitors; it is also the scene for one of the re-enactment shows which run throughout the day. All of the bar maids were dressed in grisette-type costumes and after serving drinks to the public they also took part in the show. Their main role was to dance the can-can. We assume that actors were employed to take part in the show. Some of them, particularly the dancers, were not very good. They were out of time with the music, and one poor girl nearly fell into us as she tripped and we were standing at the side of the stage. However, given that Spaghetti Westerns are a spoof and not to be taken seriously, this all seemed in keeping with the general feel of the event. Most of the visitors were Spanish and enjoyed the bar scene, which included some shooting and I believe some minor chair-throwing (although we did go out for a breath of air and to wait for the restaurant to open and did not actually see the latter).

Later on there was a wonderful show outside, mainly with cowboys on horseback. This was superb, and we really did feel as if we were extras in a Spaghetti Western film. What I really liked about the whole experience was that it was almost a community event. When the shows were taking place, you could not buy lunch or get a drink at the bar; nearly all of the day’s visitors were standing around watching at the same time. laughing and clapping. It had a really good atmosphere and feeling that everyone was enjoying the show together. Despite our Spanish language skills being very limited, we could still enter into the spirit of it. There are some amusing touches on the set too, such as a building named ‘Sky Sports.’ You could also go and pretend to hang yourself on the noose and stand behind bars in the jail. I did consider dressing up in a costume and having a ‘Wanted’ poster made of myself, but in the end resisted, because of the cost and the thought of dressing up in temperatures of about 90 degrees!

The buffet lunch was not available until after the midday show was over, and that was perfectly acceptable, and as always in Spain, a very reasonable cost at 10 euros a head for three courses. After that I went for a swim in the very welcoming cool water of the pool. Next to the pool area are some bungalows which you can stay in over-night, if you are really keen to spend maximum time at the site. I’d say that the experience is really suitable for all ages. We went with a 16 year old, but it would be great for young children too. The only activity we did not take part in which I should have quite enjoyed, was having a ride around the site on a horse-drawn carriage. We were too late for an early afternoon ride, as the afternoon, outdoor show started at 2:30 and there would be no more rides until 3:00; of course we are talking Spanish time here, where everything is relaxed and ‘manana’ and it was getting exceedingly hot, so we headed off before the end of the show. It was a very impressive affair, with wonderfully evocative music and extremely skilled horsemen riding across the desert sand. In fact there was a lot of music played during the day and particularly for the shows; even as a non Western fan, I have to admit that the music is very atmospheric.

This is a place worth visiting if you are in Almeria in Southern Spain, and want a change from swimming, beaches and visiting the fantastic city of Granada and the beautiful mountain villages.




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